MOSCOW -- German metal legend Till Lindemann, front man of the band Rammstein, says he was targeted by Kremlin propaganda when Russian media erroneously quoted him praising Vladimir Putin and published a fake photo carefully doctored to show him giving a thumbs up in a T-shirt emblazoned with the Russian president winking.
In comments to the German tabloid Bild on June 29, Lindemann said the widely circulated photograph had been digitally altered and his black shirt actually showed a skull and bones, not Putin’s face.
In the Bild story, titled I Was A Victim Of Putin Propaganda, Lindemann said he had indeed been holding a high-end iPhone with Putin's image embossed on it, but he said the phone had just been thrust into his hand and he definitely never talked about Putin in the glowing terms he was quoted as using in Russian media.
Russian media on June 27 and 28 quoted Lindemann as saying: "In Germany, [Chancellor] Angela Merkel can't boast the same popularity that Putin has. I like him, he is a serious leader, not a puppet -- unlike all the others."
"I consider all these attacks on your country unjust," the Russian media quotes continued, in a presumed reference to the growing list of international grievances. "Russia is protecting its interests. Sanctions should be imposed on those who are playing a dishonorable game and provoking international conflict. In any case, I am sure that music will save the world."
But Lindemann, the most prominent face of Germany's Neue Deutsche Haerte rock subgenre, says he said no such thing.
Bild quoted Lindemann as saying: "It's total crap! We played in Moscow on June 19. The friends of Russian promotor Ed Radnikov came up to me before the start of the concert and thrust a phone into my hand with the words 'with greetings from Vladimir Putin!' Then they asked me how I like Moscow. I gave a thumbs up and said, 'Moscow is an excellent city.' That's it."
The photograph was widely circulated in Russian media.
However, despite the whiff of an elaborate propaganda scheme, the mistakes in reporting may have actually been the result of a patriotic commercial PR stunt gone wrong.
On June 29, Gazeta.ru reported that the doctored photograph and quotes had first been circulated to Russian media outlets on June 20 by Caviar, the company that makes patriotic iPhone covers embossed with Putin's face. The Russian media outlets subsequently published the comments and photographs.
Caviar declined to confirm or deny the report in comments to RFE/RL's Russian Service. Lenta.ru, however, cited a press release from Caviar as taking responsibility, although the press release in question could not be found on Caviar's website.
Some Russian media have pulled reports of the photograph and comments by the Rammstein singer. They include outlets like Komsomolskaya Pravda. The German version of state news wire Sputnik currently displays a genuine photograph of Lindemann.
But the Czech version of Sputnik -- for one -- was still showing the doctored version of the story on June 30, citing Metro, the free newspaper handed out in Moscow. Metro ran that story on June 27 and it is still online. Metro, however, subsequently ran a correction.